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The Washington Blade
AIDS walk nets less than $110,000
Lou Chibbaro Jr.
November 1, 2002
Washington Blade - November 1, 2002

Whitman-Walker panel to weigh continuation of 16-year event after disappointing 18-percent return The Whitman-Walker Clinic's 16th annual AIDS Walk, held October 5, pulled in less than $600,000 in income and incurred at last $490,000 in expenses, yielding less than $110,000 in net proceeds for programs that assist people with AIDS, clinic officials announced last week. As a result, only about 18 cents of every dollar raised by participants will actually go to the clinic.

The 7,500 walkers who participated in the event this year more than doubled the 3,500 walkers that turned out for last year's walk. And the net proceeds this year, expected to be between $100,000 and $110,000, represented a significant increase over the $4,000 net return from last year's walk.

However, clinic officials said this year's outcome was a major disappointment because they had projected more participants and a far greater return.

"We are pleased that more of our neighbors and friends came out this year to support Whitman-Walker Clinic and raise funds for the thousands of area residents living with HIV/AIDS," said A. Cornelius Baker, Whitman-Walker's executive director. "But we are disappointed that this year's walk did not meet even its modest minimum financial projections." Baker said he directed clinic officials to immediately convene a special task force to review the walk and make recommendations for the clinic's board on whether the walk should be continued.

The AIDS Walk has experienced a steady decline in participants and income since the event peaked in 1997, when between 25,000 and 30,000 people participated, according to clinic officials. In 1998, net proceeds reached $1.6 million, or 74 percent of the total amount raised by walkers. In 1999, the event netted $755,893 - or 49 percent of the total donations from walkers - less than half the 1998 figure. The decline continued in 2000, when the walk pulled in $123,990 in net proceeds, representing only 14 percent of the total amount raised by participants.

The 2001 return of $4,000 was considered devastating. Clinic officials attributed the steep decline from the year before to the fact that the ride took place just weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Tim Turnham, Whitman-Walker's development director, said the task force reviewing the future of the AIDS Walk held its first meeting on Oct. 24.

"The two main questions we considered were, should we do the walk next year and, if we do it, what would be the structure and format to get the best results?" Turnham said.

In reviewing the demographics of the people who have participated in the walk during the past five years, Turnham said, the task force found that the number of gay participants has declined steadily.

"Most of the walk participants in recent years have been straight suburbanites," he said. "Many are college students." The task force feels the clinic needs to "engage or re-engage the gay community" in the walk, Turnham said.

The event in the past few years was more of a leisurely walk rather than a "march for a cause," he said. "We talked about changing it back to a mission." Turnham said the task force is also looking into recent results of AIDS walks in other cities. He said nearly all AIDS walks in other cities have experienced a similar decline in participation and revenue.